Pain is a strange thing. It’s something we all have, but experience in different ways. For me, I have begun to observe the relationship that I have with pain, living with three chronic illnesses: asthma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. It’s a huge task to manage my health, but I wanted to acknowledge how my struggle with my health has shaped me into the person that I am today.
This December, it will be eight years since I was diagnosed with and constantly handling Type 1 Diabetes. It is a chronic burden, but whether I want to deal with it or not, it’s been a part of me for almost a full decade. At a recent doctor’s appointment, I was asked, “How do you feel being diagnosed for seven to eight years?”
As I sit and ponder on this question, it has taught me so much. I have not only learned how to count carbs and read tiny numbers on syringes, but I have also learned that it would impact my mental health, emotional state, and even spiritual mindset. It forced me to quickly take a sharp turn on my path of life. I am no stranger to hospitals, and over the years I’ve become very familiar with a waiting room, an ambulance, and long sleepless nights.
I feel so frustrated. Every day, I must cope with the pricking of my finger and bleeding to see my blood sugar, and I must plan my days and my diet based on what I ate the previous night. I miss out on experiences, because my pain overrides my brain and desires, and I have no choice but to stop, and let those chances pass, while maintaining hope that I’ll be better next time.
At the end of 2019, I was celebrating the rise of the new decade with as much innocent bliss as the next person across the world. New decade, new me! It was going to be amazing and life-changing, and then COVID-19 hit, and the pandemic began. The political scare and the actual threat of COVID-19 was not what I was expecting at all. Plans to attend college came to a screeching halt. Life shutdown, and panic was high across my mind.
Our collective spring break was not spent on vacation, but inside our homes wiping down our countertops and fearing the disease. I was very worried. The reality for me and anyone coping with chronic illness was being stuck in a room at the house, without much to do or many people to see. It wasn’t any different than the unfortunate times before the pandemic when I was also stuck in a tiny hospital room, or even bedbound. It was a turning point for many people, but those who were already disabled pitched the realization that this was reality for most of us all our lives.
Thankfully, that spring, the world came together, as we always manage to do, and we remain connected from across our balconies, and across virtual islands on social media. It was a crucial time that changed the emotional turnout of the year, and the next year. I still remember it very vividly, and remember it each time I leave home with a mask. It still gives me hope to this day that people find ways to overcome difficult times together, similarly to how I continue to overcome difficulties with my health through the support of my friends and family.
As I’m celebrating my 21st birthday, I bring with me knowledge and experience, and I’m grateful to be writing about it now. Even though I have three diseases, one in remission, I have not let that stop me from achieving my goals. I’m reminded of what I’ve accomplished when I pour my feelings into creative outlets, when I post a new article online, and when I finally settle down to catch up with my friends late at night. There are things I never thought I could experience, such as getting meaningful tattoos, which represent overcoming a challenge in the face of pain and caring for my body. I have job opportunities, and I am reconnecting with the language of my people, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi, in new places, while forming new friendships.
I’ve started college again, and I am studying a subject that I’ve always wanted to study, marine biology. I was afraid of failure, which was heightened during the pandemic, and finally arriving at orientation was like climbing a mountain, or winning a race. I took the leap, and I’m having a great time! Fear accumulated inside my head, dictating what I should and shouldn’t do, and I’m thankful that I reached for the opportunity, and the opportunity reached back, and accepted me.
Now I am proud of my life and I’m happy to embrace every part of it, including living with chronic illness. I believe that the chance at life I’ve made is a meaningful and powerful song. Every day is worth something, and you’ll always have another chance to pick yourself up, and try again the next time. Always take the time to spend with yourself, learning your body’s love language, and finding ways to make yourself serene. Things can shake up in an instant, but I focus on what I can do in the moment, and let things fall into place as I move along with courage.
Coda Cavalier is a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. They live in North Carolina, and attend Unity College for Marine Biology and Sustainable Aquaculture.
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